For adventurous souls, the tallest peak in North America is an invitation, a challenge pitting man against mountain. Although Mount McKinley has claimed the lives of 114 people, each spring more than a thousand climbers attempt to summit the 20,320-foot mountain.
The High One: Reaching the Top explores what drives people to climb McKinley and what it takes to conquer North America’s tallest peak. Through historical and contemporary climbing gear, videos, firsthand narratives and photographs, this exhibition tells the history of McKinley mountaineering from the first recorded attempt in 1903 to today.
With 50-below temperatures, high winds and raging storms, McKinley is considered one of the most hostile environments on Earth. Yet according to National Park Service statistics, 37,306 climbers attempted to summit McKinley during the past 108 years, with an overall 52 percent success rate.
This exhibition begins with McKinley lore including its geologic origins and legends it has inspired.
Displays outline the many “firsts” of the mountain, and introduce the people who answered its call including legendary explorers Bellmore Browne, Hudson Stuck, Bradford Washburn and Naomi Uemura.
Visitors can follow day-by-day accounts of three historic climbs, and see the step-by-step process of planning and executing an expedition. They’ll also learn about the effects of altitude on the body and the challenges of keeping the mountain pristine.
Rare objects on display include a map from 1839, the first to use the mountain’s indigenous name. Visitors can share their opinions about whether the mountain should be called Denali (meaning “the high one” in Athabascan) or McKinley (after former president William McKinley), the official name of record with the United States Board on Geographic Names.
Hands-on activities include packing for the mountain, tying ropes and other practical climbing activities that become feats under the mountain’s extreme conditions.
Through this exhibition, visitors will better understand the risks and rewards of climbing Mount McKinley, the mountain that dominates Alaska’s landscape and our imaginations.
The High One
6 p.m. Friday, April 6 Free
Mountaineer/singersongwriter Marty Raney performs at this opening reception for The High One exhibition.
The Conquest of McKinley
7 p.m. Thursday, April 12 Free
One hundred years ago a group of adventurers including Belmore Browne and Hershal Parker tried to become the first to summit Mount McKinley. They got heartbreakingly close: Just 300 feet from the summit, they were thwarted by a violent storm. Join Denali guide Brian Okonek as he tells this epic story of camaraderie, sportsmanship and perseverance.
On view April 6 through Sept. 30
On view through April 15
On view through April 22
On view April 27 through Sept. 2